HL Deb 13 May 1992 vol 537 cc346-8

2.57 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth asked the Chairman of Committees:

Whether, in view of the expense and time required, he considers it necessary for Private Bills to be committed separately to Select Committees in both Houses.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

My Lords, there are arguments for and against joint committees and these are examined in paragraphs 133 to 142 of the report of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure, HL Paper 97, in the Session 1987–88. In the absence of general agreement it would not be right to change the existing practice whereby petitions against a Private Bill may be heard in both Houses, although there might from time to time be opportunities for joint committees on particular Bills.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, which I am sure he realises is highly unsatisfactory. Does he agree that the major problem is that one does not want to sack part of the Bar overnight? That does not prevent other solutions. I believe that in 1952 a committee advocated that the situation should be altered. It would have been fairly easy then gradually to have run the Bar down—

Noble Lords


Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, is it not a fact that there are other possibilities such as increasing the cost to a single committee so that some recompense can be made for early retirement?

Lord Ampthill

My Lords, I am probably the last person in this House who would wish to run down the Bar, for reasons which may occur to certain noble and learned Lords. When the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure examined the matter in 1987–88, the chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means and others in another place were in favour of joint committees. However, at that time the Leader in another place, my predecessor the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the parliamentary agents were in favour of retention of separate committees, as were the witnesses who appeared before that committee looking after the interests of petitioners. They valued the opportunities that they had to put the case before both Houses.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is it not the case that the 1987–88 report, to which the noble Lord referred, recommended an experimental period for optional joint committees? As I recall it, at that time there was a favourable reaction to that from a large number of noble Lords on all sides of the House. Can the noble Lord say whether or not that recommendation will be reconsidered?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, if the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition would like me to reconsider that, I shall do so. There was a great division of opinion as to which way one should go on this matter. My predecessor was strongly of the opinion, as was the Leader of the House of Commons, that the matter should be left as it is. I should mention that the workload of those committees is about to become much lighter because of the Transport and Works Act 1992, which will mean that the workload will gradually become less.

Lord Renton

My Lords, as one who never practised at the parliamentary Bar, may I remind my noble friend of two important factors in this matter? First, generally speaking there is no repetition of the proceedings in the two Houses. The second important factor—perhaps even more important—is that we should not lose sight of the opportunities which should sometimes be given, even on Private Bills, to your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend because I agree entirely with every word he said.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord as I understand that this is his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. I congratulate him upon his appointment. It is too early to expect him to deliver decisions on this issue but he will recall his predecessor's anxiety about the degree of abuse of Private Bills in the field of public legislation. Will he give thought to that, because it is a serious problem?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for his kind remarks and I shall certainly bear in mind what he said.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, quite apart from the detail which has been referred to, experience over the centuries has shown that there is a lot of merit in maintaining the separateness of the two Houses in the way in which they conduct their contributions to the good government of the country?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls. There is a difference in the work patterns of the two Houses which makes joint committee procedure not altogether easy. Therefore, at the end of the day I believe that our present procedure will probably turn out to be the best.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, would not the Chairman of Committees agree that a joint committee of both Houses would save money for both the sponsors and petitioners against Private Members' Bills?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, on the surface that would appear to be the case but, as I have already said, there is a preference by the petitioners that the second House should have an opportunity to review what happened in the first House that deals with the Bill. On the whole, I am persuaded that the arguments are in favour of leaving the procedures as they presently stand.